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The Importance of Kinship: Uncle and Nephew in Beowulf

Rolf Bremmer

In 1870 lohann lakob Bachofen set out to work on  a new edition of his ‘Mutterrecht,l. This time he did not  restrict himself anyinore to the classical cultures, as in the first edition of his epochal study (1861), but looked for evidence of the state of matriarchy throughout the world. One of the fruits of his research was the observation that among many patriarchal peoples a special cordial relation existed between the mother’s brother (MoBr) and the sister’s son (SiSo). Bachofen published some of the results of his investigation in 1880 and 1886 in two slim volumes ‘Antiquarische Briefe,. Unfortunately, his results hardly found any resonance and have been completely neglected in subsequent anthropological research. Only in 1924 did Arthur Radcliffe-Brown4 touch again upon the subject in detail. Although his explanation has been proved wrong and his representation of the facts was misleading he greatly advanced upon Bachofen in that he discarded the evolutionary scheme in which the special relationship considered as a survival of matrilineal times and looked for a solution in society as he found it. In this direction he has been followed by such scholars as Claude LeviStrauss, Jack Goody and Victor Turner who have established that the mother’s brother can develop a special relation with the sister’s son, because he is an outsider in the paternal family and is not hindered by the patria potestas.

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